Company Support for Open Source Stable for 15 Years Now?!

I just read Nagle et al.’s Report on the 2020 FOSS Contributor Survey. They find that about 50% of contributors are paid by their employers to work on open source software. This confirms a 2013 paper on paid vs. volunteer work in open source of ours, which also suggested that about half of all development takes place on company time. The rub: Our paper used rather old, pre-Github times data from 2007 (culled from Ohloh, now OpenHub).

Does this mean that in the last 15 years or so corporate engagement in open source has remained stable?

There is clearly surveyor- and self-selection bias in Nagle et al.’s sample (they focused on projects from the Linux Foundation’s Core Infrastructure Initiative) and there is also some bias in our Ohloh sample, as it focused on popular projects. On the other hand, these are the projects of economic relevance that most people are interested in, and so I think both our samples are relevant and roughly equivalent.

Nagle et al. point to a debate of growing influence of money in the FOSS ecosystem and that this makes some people fearful of corporate and project interests getting out of balance. Pointing back at our own finding based on 13 year old data, nothing seems to have changed here, so in terms of percentages, money hasn’t increased. However, companies may have become more strategic in their behavior.

Back to the original question: Did nothing change in 15 years? I think yes and no. To the extent that this data can show us, little changed for community open source, the target audience by selection of participants. This ignores the major advances and changes in commercial open source, where much has been happening. I would be curious about a corresponding survey of these projects.

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